Belfast Telegraph

Shortage of skilled workers a problem for building firms both sides of border

By Margaret Canning

Construction companies in Northern Ireland are experiencing difficulties in recruiting skilled staff, according to a survey today.

The InterTradeIreland Business Monitor Report said building firms in the Republic were also finding it hard to recruit skilled workers.

But despite fears over the potential impact of Brexit, the quarterly survey found companies on both sides of the border were generally in buoyant mood. In fact, the survey found 98% had no plan in place to deal with Brexit.

And exporters were more positive in their outlook than non-exporters.

Over 80% of respondents to the quarterly survey were reporting either stability or growth. However, more than a third of building firms reported staffing problems.

Aidan Gough, strategy and policy director at InterTradeIreland, said: "We are seeing a resilient, sustained recovery and notable symmetry in challenges faced by firms both north and south. The number of companies across the island reporting stability or growth in the last quarter has remained fairly constant at 84%.

"However, exporters continue to fare better than non-exporters with 51% experiencing growth compared to 36% respectively."

He said the building trade had been hardest hit by the downturn but was now in recovery mode.

"Over 75% of businesses in the sector say they are profitable or very profitable," he said.

"However, an emerging skills shortage in the construction sector is obviously an obstacle to continued growth.

"This may lead to building firms beginning to feel the pinch in terms of the acquisition of new contracts and servicing the needs of fuller order books."

Around half of businesses on both sides of the border who sell across the frontier were concerned about currency and exchange rates.

And skills shortages weren't just affecting construction firms, but were reported as a concern for around 28% of growing businesses.

Just under half of businesses were concerned about the rising cost of energy, while the same proportion were concerned about the pressure of other rising overheads.

The falling value of the pound has resulted in an increase in input costs for many Northern Ireland companies.

Last week's Purchasing Managers' Index from Ulster Bank found that inflationary pressures accelerated during January - showing that a weak sterling was hitting businesses through increased import costs. Input cost inflation grew at its fastest rate since May 2011.

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